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Motlow, lawmakers discuss needs at annual breakfast

Posted on Friday, January 19, 2018 at 11:25 am

As Tennessee legislators prepare to convene for the 111th General Assembly at noon on Tuesday, state Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) told higher education leaders at Motlow State Community College Friday morning that he expects a “very short and simple session” ahead. Barring “something dark horse,” he said, the legislature expects to see “no big issues to blow up the map” before the March revenues come out, a budget is passed and everyone goes home by the second week of April. Matheny was one of three local legislators to speak Friday morning at the college’s annual legislative breakfast. He was joined by Rutherford County representatives Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Rep, Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro). Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) was also in attendance to hear the concerns of educators. Motlow State Interim Motlow President Hilda Tunstill presented a nearly identical list of priorities on behalf of the community college, stressing safety and security enhancements and capital requests while asking the legislature specifically to support funding recommendations made by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). “This increase will assist with recognizing growth in outcomes and productivity and trying to keep the tuition rate down for our students, to keep it below 3 percent,” she said. She also asked the legislature to support THEC’s recommendation to add 13 full-time student advisors. With regard to expanding college access, Tunstill made a point of praising the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative and its programs, the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, which offer last-dollar scholarships to both first-time students and returning nontraditional students. At the same time, Tunstill requested legislative help with providing additional resources to these students, such as scholarships for the books they will need. “Motlow has for the past three years seen a double-digit enrollment increase,” said Tunstill. “From 2014 (when Tennessee Promise was signed into law) to 2017 we have seen a 37.6-percent overall increase, so thank you. From a standpoint of full-time equivalent, which is what our funding is based on, we have seen a 50-percent increase for the same time period. That is phenomenal. So thank you.” “The college’s enrollment has been both exciting and challenging,” she said. “One of the challenges has been the space at our Smyrna campus. With the population growth in Rutherford County, Motlow State appreciates the support of the General Assembly for helping us with funding.” At last January’s briefing, then college president Anthony Kinkel made clear to legislators the need for a new 78,000-square-foot building on the Smyrna campus. In February, Gov. Bill Haslam approved a budget that included spending $24.5 million for that building’s construction. To see the new building added to the Smyrna campus, Motlow is required to put up 10 percent of the cost. Tunstill said the Motlow Foundation in December voted to help the fundraising effort with $200,000. In addition, Tunstill said, a donor had pledged to match $400,000 of the foundation’s fundraising effort. Though Tunstill did not name the donor, Kinkel last year announced that the Rutherford County Commission had agreed to match that amount. Motlow also, in late 2016, received a $5.5 million Drive to 55 Capacity Fund state grant to build an Advanced Robotics Training Center in McMinnville. The state-of-the-art training facility, built on 4.5 acres donated by the Warren County Commission, would be an operational partnership between Motlow’s McMinnville campus and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) there. Tunstill announced Friday morning “we are looking at a target date of spring of 2019 to start noncredit industry and business classes there and hopefully start credit classes in fall of 2019.” TCATs The 2018 Legislative Briefing was co-hosted by Motlow State Community College and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology in McMinnville, Shelbyville and Murfreesboro. The presidents of those three schools shared a similar set of hopes and concerns for the funding and campus security at technical colleges. Shelbyville TCAT President Laura Monks also asked that the legislators continue to support the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) which, as the name suggests, aligns the educational efforts of technology centers and community colleges with the high-skill, high-technology training needs of the workforce. “That has really created a lot of collaboration between our communities and our higher education,” Monks said, noting that the collaboration beneÞ ts both industries and students. Legislators In response to the requests of education leaders, Matheny said, “I don’t think you’re going to have anything to worry about this legislative session for the vast line share of your requests. From safety and security of the infrastructure to the staff needs and all of those things. I think that will be an absolute priority.” Legislators Ketron and Rudd also spoke brieß y in generalized support of the collected concerns of TBR schools, with Ketron adding a few legislative issues he plans to address in the coming session. In Murfreesboro, Ketron said, he would be supporting an expanded mechatronics program, adding a Level 3 Siemens Mechatronics Systems Certification Program curriculum and training center at MTSU to the Level 1 programs available at the high school level and Level 2 program offered by Motlow. Ketron also said that in the coming session he would be introducing what he called the “small cell” bill on behalf of wireless carriers across the state. “The broadband initiative is so important,” he said, “not just to businesses but for children, for our students to get educated and be able to download their homework.” The bill would allow wireless carriers across the state to provide 5G cell phone coverage which, he said, would “open up that bandwidth for the data” to reach underserved rural areas.